Stony faced now, Kopkage replied matter-of-factly to the mayor's questioning.
"We don't know, the autopsy report hasn't yet been produced."
"Well then, as the suspect is in our care, I would like my own doctor, who not only majored in forensic pathology but taught the subject for two years at Haven,
I would like her to go over the results when they are produced. Then we can make our own decision as to what is in the best interests of the patient."
"Mayor Troy, we have perfectly qualified pathologists at the Medical Centre in New Flagstaff. We also have the facilities in place to give the suspect whatever medical care is deemed necessary."
"I'm sure you do, Officer Kopkage. But Oliver Rundle is under our care...
My care, in fact, so any decisions made about his immediate future will be taken by me under advisement from my own medical experts."
Kopkage's anger was starting to rise again. He leaned across the desk
"The suspect is a New Flagstaff citizen, subject to New Flagstaff law."
Mayor Troy stood up and copied the New Flagstaff policeman's aggressive stance so that their faces were bare inches apart.
"Which, as I am sure you are very aware, has no jurisdiction in MY town!"
Kopkage, eyes bulging, almost shook with contained fury. Hyle sat down slowly and reached for a folder from the pile on her right.
"Good day, Officer."
Joe was worried. No, angry... Worried. Worried and angry... Probably more angry than worried. But still, really worried.
His thoughts, currently, were along the lines of; What's those badger type things that live underground? Vicious buggers. No wait, they only come out at night. Well, normal ones do.
God knows what these mutated bastards do, they might bloody fly for all he knew. Flying vicious badgers. So, yeah, definitely more worried than angry. He was still bloody annoyed, though.
Ned Flowers, under Joe's direction, had organised a search party of twenty-eight available 'associates.
' After also putting the word out to every one of joe's 'eyes' that they came across,
Ned directed the search party into a line to cover the side of New Flagstaff that butted up against the waste ground where the underground mortuary was.
From there, the armed men and women set off across the uneven and heavily foliaged ground, taking care to explore every little nook and cranny where a belly-button-tall kid could hide.
There were a lot of such places, so progress was slow and full of scratches.
Talking of Joe's juvenile spy network, Charly Farley, after being found in Winona Barrow's loft, was currently being uncooperative in Hope Springs newly expanding constabulary headquarters.
Meanwhile, the actual subjects of Joe's confused emotions were eating stew.
All three orphans were rather nervously sitting as part of a larger communal circle around a collection of campfires. Over which several pots hung, tended by a whole gaggle of women.
The stew was good, a bit thin though, and its only claim to being 'meat' stew was that you might be one of the lucky ones who found a bit.
As in the orphanage, as long as the meat wasn't actually green or moving, it was readily accepted and quickly devoured.
While they filled their belly's, they listened.
Conversation on each side of them wandered from blistered feet to lucky finds, to who was doing what to who and the general moaning about, well, everything.
An oft-repeated topic of discussion was townies and why they were such bastards and what would happen if the boot was on the other foot and a townie dared show up in the camp.
After much hilarious discussion about what they would do with said visitor, leaving Finny with several new words to look up when she got back,
someone in the circle mentioned the name of someone else as being the latest one to die.
The humour ended immediately, and several sad faces automatically turned to look over to where a small group of tents sat huddled closer together than the rest.
Each tent displayed a flag-like piece of red cloth hanging limply from a stick poking up from its roof.
Finny elbowed the two boys beside her into silence and their heads came together in a huddle.
"Them tents over there must be like a hospital." She whispered, urgently.
Onetooth and Casper just looked at her. Finny glared.
"So," she went on. "If Worms dug up a body, then it might have been they was sick here first and then buried."
Onetooth screwed up his face.
"But why was Worms here? Fugees..."
"Ssssh!" The other two hissed. Finny risked a look over his head, but nobody was paying attention to three little kids... a 'grown-ups' trait that had saved their hides on several occasions.
Onetooth's whisper became more pronounced.
"They don't like townies. They just said so. Why would Worms come here?"
Casper had also raised his head, but he was looking back the way they had come.
"Why does Worms do anything?" He muttered as he estimated how far they had travelled since running from Joe's car. "And besides, it isn't really all that far away."
"And anyway," Finny expanded. "He wun't have come here. He'd have gone to where they buried the sick people."
The other members of the brains trust stopped contributing at this point, so Finny made a decision and stood up.
"Come on. Foller me."
Once again, Finny set off, confident that the boys would follow. They made their way through the streets of tents until they reached the edge of them.
The tents with the red flags were about twenty metres away across a strip of curiously empty grass.
Finny was looking both ways to see if there were any guards or anything when a voice from the nearest unflagged tent behind them pulled their attention away with a warning of doom.
"Don't y'all go where ya thinkin' of goin' or you'll be getting' a whoppin'."
They turned to see a girl of about twelve or so coming out of the tent with an armful of clothes. She dropped them into a small tin bathtub of soapy water.
And squatted down on a stool that had a washboard attached to it. She turned her attention back to the trio.
"Why'n you kids alus want to go where ya ain't' supposed ta?"
Finny spoke up.
"We ain't. We're supposed to... Meet Joe, where they buried the baby."
The girl looked at them hard, then shrugged and plunged her hands into the soapy water.
"Ah don't know no Joe." She said, thoroughly soaking the clothes by repeatedly lifting them up and dropping them back into the water.
She flicked her head off to the right, in the direction of the road and the grass and weed-covered rubble beyond it. Basically, where Finny and the boys had come from.
"But the McGuffin baby was buried over yonder with the others." The girl looked disapproving. "They got enough men over there digging them up again. Dunno why they'd want three kids helping 'em."
Finny was annoyed that the girl kept calling them kids. She wasn't that much older than they were. And besides, she thought, sniffily, she's not using enough soap.
Unfortunately, the time it took Finny to have these thoughts was also enough time for Onetooth to blurt out a question.
"Why are they digging the people up again?"
The girls stopped washing and stared at them suspiciously.
"Because dang dogs started digging fer them. But why don't y'all already know that?"
The expressions on the faces of the three orphans confirmed to the girl that something was wrong here. She turned her head to the open tent she had emerged from and took a big breath.
There was nowhere to run. And the washer girl's bellow for her mother had other heads turning all around them.
Finny's shoulders slumped.
Joe was just about to give up looking and get down off the roof of his tonneau to head into town to coordinate things with Ned.
So of course, this was the moment when he saw the smoke, just a hint of it, dissipating quickly in the already hot and hazy air of mid-afternoon. Easily missed.
If, Joe thought. Finny and the other two little reprobates had run off in that direction. And If they had spotted this same smoke.
Then would a natural-born trouble seeker like Finny be likely to go and have a look-see? Joe checked the load in his shotty and felt for the spare shells in his duster.
"Does the pope shit in the bleedin' woods?" He muttered to himself as he jumped down off the car and headed off towards the thin cloud of smoke.
Consequently, Joe was in a position, laying flat on his belly in a thickish patch of weeds, to see Finny, Casper and Onetooth being not too gently escorted through the refugee camp.
He flicked the stud on his collar.
Ned's response vibrated Joe's cochlea, which in turn caused his stereocilia to move and convert the vibrations into nerve impulses on the way to his brain.
Message received; Joe's brain responded with deadly intent.
"The big Fugee camp outside of town. They've got the kids. Break out the AKs, this could get unpleasant."
Casper was in danger of wearing a hole in the canvas groundsheet of the large tent they were in.
Finny and Onetooth sat on grain sacks and watched as he paced up and down, wringing his hands and alternatively glaring at Finny then staring apprehensively at the closed tent flap.
"Stop lookin' at me like that!" Finny said to Casper's latest hard stare. "They're not gonna hurt us."
"How do you know that? They've locked us up. An' remember what they were saying what they'd do if they caught any townies."
Which was when the tent flap was pulled back, and a man came in. Finny stood up. Onetooth followed her example a second or two later.
The man stood and took the time to look at each of them individually.
"Thank you for confirming that you are from New Flagstaff, but we'd already figured that out when nobody came forward to claim you. My name's David, by the way."